By Joe Gillespie
For Web designers, the time always comes when you are asked to design
a logo. Now, you might well be a seasoned graphic designer with years
of logo designs under your belt or, you might think that it is just a
matter of finding a typeface and tapping the words out on a keyboard and
applying a Photoshop filter. Either way, you can improve your logos if
you follow a few tried and trusted guidelines.
If you study some of the best known logos around, you will notice that
they have some aspects in common - well, maybe not. After all, the most
important thing about any logo is that it is totally different from all
Okay, we have a paradox here! What all good logos have in common is that
they go out of their way to be different!
Take a look at the logos of Coca Cola, Mobil Oil, IBM, Kellogg's. They
are all uniquely different. They are instantly recognisable across the
world and if you were to take any one of them and cut it up into pieces,
even the individual pieces would still be identifiable.
To make a logo so powerful takes two things, time and money. All these
logos have been around for quite some time and have had millions spent
on promoting them in advertising and packaging. When you design a new
logo, you certainly wont have the benefit of time - not to begin
with anyway - and you will be very fortunate indeed if it eventually gets
the megabucks behind it to make it an icon of our times.
One thing is for sure, if you dont get the basic principles right,
it doesnt matter how much you spend, a bad logo wont get a
chance to stand up to the test of time, it will be replaced pretty quickly.
Some logos have been around for years with little or no changes. They
look every bit as relevant today as they did when they were introduced
umpteen years ago. The Coca Cola logo, for instance, has been tinkered
with by designers over the years but the changes have been evolutionary
not revolutionary. Its not what you would call a modern logo, how
could it be? It was originally designed in-house back in 1886
and despite the many changes and translations that have been made over
the years, it is still essentially the same logo - in fact, the most recognisable
logo in the World.
There are two lessons to be learned here. Firstly, overtly trendy
logos date quickly and can become embarrassments. If you can put a date
to a logo, there is probably something wrong with it - unless, of course,
being of today is an essential part of the brief. Almost any
well known logo that you can think of is just as relevant today as it
was years ago - timeless, in fact!
Secondly, theres consistency. Unlike the Coca Cola logo, the Pepsi
Cola logo has changed significantly over the years. It was originally
very similar to the Coca Cola one, written in a flowery script style.
Today, it is arguably more modern, with its bold sans serif typeface,
but loses out on the classic, timeless aspect that helps perpetuate Cokes
heritage. To gain universal recognition, any company or brand image depends
on the amount of exposure it gets. If it is changed every few years because
it is starting to look old fashioned or through some chairmans whim,
then it has to be relearned by the public and its back to square
If you are designing a logo for a company or product that already has
an established logo, think twice before suggesting any radical change.
Look first at an evolutionary change that it makes it more relevant to
today - that doesnt mean modernise it. Some years ago,
the fashion was to modernise logos with a starker Swiss
look. Many of the big name logo designs that I have been involved
with were for traditional English brands like Bovril, Horlicks, Colmans
Mustard, Rowntrees, Trebor and Frank Coopers Marmalades. In each
of these cases, I found that I had to take two steps backwards to go forward
because they had all previously had their logos modernised
and had lost much of their hard-earned traditional values in the process.
Lets look at the logos of some successful
hi-tech companies and see what we can learn from those. Take Microsoft,
IBM, Canon, Sony, Apple. They are all fairly simple, with the exception
of Apples apple symbol, all are just the name of the
company written in a distinctive way.
Distinctive is the important factor here. These are not ordinary
typefaces bought from Adobe or downloaded from a free font site on the
Web. They have all been specially designed and hand-drawn so that they
are NOT the same as any other typeface.
Microsoft has a fairly ordinary bold italic sans typeface, but the o
has a nick out of it making it more distinctive, recognisable and memorable.
IBM has scan lines running through a bold Egyptian
style font. Canon has a particularly distinctive initial C.
Sony has what is probably the least distinctive type style of all these
examples, an extended slab-serif, but the word itself is so unique it
can get off with it. The choice of company and product titles is another
very important factor, but I wont go into that at the minute.
The Apple logo is the only one which has seen a recent change, albeit
an evolutionary one where the rainbow stripes have been replaced by a
single colour. The word Apple is written in an ordinary typeface, a derivative
of Garamond, designed way back in the sixteenth century!
None of these logos are what you might call fashionable. Apples
rainbow stripes were, but have given way to a more classical approach.
In doing so, the logo has lost some of its distinctiveness but it was
clearly dating the companys image and that is undesirable for a
company wanting to appear to be innovative.
Trendy, graphically fashionable logos are okay for companies or products
that are ephemeral. Graphic styles, like clothes, go in and out of fashion
all the time. Obviously, it wouldnt make much sense to design a
logo for a computer company using an Art Deco typestyle because it gives
all the wrong signals. On the other hand, flying in the face of convention
is more likely to provide a unique, creative answer than by repeating
the same popular images as everyone else.
This is where design gets really interesting.
using it for a similar job! There are certain visual vocabularies
- clichés, if you like - associated with every discipline you can
think of. Look through Yellow Pages or a clip art CD and you will see
thousands of them - stars, stripes, chefs' hats, wooden spoons, chickens.
In logo design, clichés are counter productive. Instead of making
your logo look unique, they are confusing it with every other one that
uses the same visual idea. In fact, using such a device makes the company
look run-of-the-mill and cheap. But, take a cliché and give it
a twist, use it out of context or in a different way, and you will have
given your logo something that people will remember.
There is very little value in copying somebody elses logo - unless
you deliberately want to look like a me-too. A logo should ideally be
as different from every other one as you can possibly make it. It should
also communicate something about the company or product other than just
its name. You have an opportunity to add some additional values subliminally
through your choice of typeface and colour.
Most corporate logos need to work across a wide spectrum of usage situations
- signage, stationery, packaging, promotional items and mainstream advertising.
They probably require different sizes and versions for different applications
too - a full colour version on the front of the companys annual
report or notepaper and a gold-leaf or etched glass version that works
on the main entrance door.
If it appears on television, the logo could be animated, and there is
always the give-away, printed balloons!
Designing a logo today means that it will
probably be used on the Web. In fact, the Web could well be its main expression
and print of little or no consideration. A logo designed for Web use has
to take into account that it will be displayed at a small size, in relatively
low resolution and possibly with a restricted colour palette. If designing
a logo specifically or primarily for the Web, you should start with Web
safe colours, not Pantone or ink colours. It is easier to match printing
ink to Web safe colours than the other way around.